Road accidents are a major cause of death in Switzerland and so there are some strict laws on driving.
The Swiss drive on the right with overtaking on the left. All secondary roads give priority to traffic from the right unless a priority sign is displayed (yellow diamond on a white background). If in doubt, give way to the right.
Drivers in Switzerland must always give way to emergency services vehicles.
Vehicles in Switzerland must carry a warning triangle which is used for breakdowns or accidents. This is a mandatory requirement and drivers are also obliged to carry a fluorescent jacket if they cross the borders into Italy, France and Germany.
(In many European and Scandinavian countries you cannot carry the triangle and the jacket in the boot/trunk, they must be with you in the cabin - they take safety very seriously).
Driving speeds in Switzerland are much slower than other parts of Europe and drivers should be vigilant for speed warning signs.
Vehicles travelling on the motorways must display a special vignette or car sticker (which costs a few Euros, of course), otherwise there is an on-the-spot fine.
In addition to the regular road rules, the Swiss have a few you might find a bit out of the ordinary.
Random alcohol tests are carried out in Switzerland. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05%. Penalties are strict with a heavy fine or a jail sentence. Nothing unusual there, but if you hold a driving license and are travelling in the same car as a drunk driver you may also lose your license as it is considered you are just as irresponsible for letting them drive.
At a traffic light or at a road crossing divers must switch off their engines to avoid pollution.
The Swiss police are very strict on driving distractions. If you are using a cell phone expect a 1000 CHF instant fine. Depending on which canton you're in you might find a similar fine for eating while driving, using earphones that prevent you hearing emergency services vehicles or for fiddling with your GPS! So hold the phone, the ipod and the sandwich until you've pulled over.
Driving in the mountains is a skill and the Swiss have a number of ground rules that may not be apparent to the overseas visitor.
When driving on narrow roads the uphill driver has the priority and the downhill driver is expected to back-up if there is insufficient passing room ... unless, and this is where it gets tricky, there is room nearer the uphill driver.
It is recommended not to brake excessively on steep roads as this can cause brakes to overheat and stop working. It is better to pull in and turn the car engine off for a few minutes which gives the brakes time to cool down.
On mountain roads groups of vehicles such as lorries have priority over cars. Buses and trucks have the priority over cars, and buses have a priority over trucks.
On very narrow mountain routes if you are told to do something by the public transport employee or driver you must do as he or she says as their local knowledge of road conditions is considered to carry the weight of law.
In winter drivers must use snow chains and winter tyres where appropriate, and carry extra emergency equipment including a shovel and hot drink. It's not unusual for roads to be closed at short notice because of hazards. The Swiss weather website is an excellent resource for trip planning.
On Swiss mountain roads a driver must be able to stop in an emergency in at least half the visible distance. Not sure how that's enforced, but it's a good guide to help you judge the appropriate distance and speed on the road.
Finally if you find yourself driving more slowly than local drivers it is an unwritten rule of courtesy to pull over. There are not many places where they can overtake safely, so give those following a break and move out of the way This is probably another reason you don't see much road rage in Switzerland.
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